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University of Rhode Island celebrates class of 2023 with rain-soaked commencement

KINGSTON — The University of Rhode Island over the weekend presented degrees to 3,331 undergraduates and 769 graduates at the campus’s 137th commencement.

Undergraduates and graduates combined accounted for representation of 41 different states and 31 different countries. Graduate students were celebrated on Friday.

For the undergraduates, Saturday was bittersweet.

“I have to move back home and away from all my friends,” Gianna Carlin, a marketing major from Westchester, N.Y. said. “All my friends are in the New England area.”

Carlin hopes to break out into the beauty industry and someday own her own med spa.

“I’ve always loved makeup since I was little,” she said. “I’ve been a dancer since I was little. It’s just my passion.”

Evan Delgrosso is considering a career in public relations. He is currently doing marketing work for a brewery. Delgrosso added, he is particularly interested in the social media aspect of marketing.

“It’s easy to reach people like that,” he said.

Undergraduates also offered what they would miss most about URI.

“(I’ll miss) how close-knit of a community it was,” Carlin said. “It’s such a big school but it really feels like everybody’s family here.”

The undergraduate commencement on Saturday took place on the campus’s Quadrangle, during a downpour. The rain began just as the undergraduates walked their line to their seats — and lasted throughout the rest of the morning.

This didn’t stop URI President Marc Parlange from being particularly upbeat as he asked the crowd of degree recipients to keep the school close to them.

“Nurture the relationships you built here and lean on the degree you so richly earned,” Parlange said. “Come back to campus and share your story as you join a network of hundreds of thousands of URI alumni, a powerful asset that you can leverage over a lifetime.”

Prior to the commencement’s recessional, Parlange wished the Class of 2023 well and stressed to it the importance of service to others.

“Service is one of the simplest and most powerful forms of giving,” Parlange said. “Embrace a life filled with service and you will reap the rewards for years to come … keep giving and I promise you will leave a legacy far greater than you can ever imagine … I can’t wait to see where you go from here.”

The undergraduate commencement speaker on Saturday was Mazen Taman of Cranston.

Taman’s family came to the United States from Egypt, prior to his birth. Taman thanked his mother, who raised him and his two brothers in a one-parent household — and worked multiple jobs to keep her sons in school and sports.

“Today, I stand before you as a graduate of this esteemed university, and I know that this accomplishment would not have been possible without the unwavering love and encouragement of my mother,” he said. “So, mom, look at us now. We made it. And to all the parents, guardians, friends, and supporters who have helped us reach this point, we owe you a debt of gratitude, that can never be repaid. Thank you for believing in us, and for being our guiding lights as we navigated this journey.”

Taman graduated with his Doctor of Pharmacy degree and will attend Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School this fall. Taman completed six clinical rotations at Rhode Island Hospital and played football for URI for four years.

Prior to Taman’s speech, URI presented hoods to the honorary doctorate degree recipients.

The school first presented the Degree of Doctor of Pharmaceutical Sciences to Zaven Khachaturian.

Provost Barbara Wolfe praised Khachaturian for his pioneer work in making Alzheimer’s a top funding priority for the government.

“You are widely recognized as the ‘father’ of modern Alzheimer’s disease research,” Wolfe said. “Your scientific interest in brain mechanisms of memory and your academic career in brain research began in the late 1950s at Yale University. In that span of subsequent decades, you have served in high level positions in academia, government, and the private sector.”

The Degree of Doctor of Science went to Wendy Schmidt. Schmidt is an investor who spent almost two decades creating nonprofit organization work with communities internationally — to bring clean, renewable energy, as well as resilient food systems, healthy ecosystems, and human rights protection.

The Schmidt Family Foundation was founded in 2006, to ensure that communities for Arizona’s Navajo Nation and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had access to clean solar and micro-hydropower energy.

Clint Smith, an interdisciplinary scholar, and social justice educator was presented the Degree of Doctor of Education.

The ceremony’s speaker was Terry Tempest Williams. Williams is a writer, naturalist, and freedom-of-speech advocate who has testified before Congress regarding women’s health. She has camped in the wilderness in Utah and Alaska and has worked as a barefoot artist in Rwanda.

The commencement dedication was delivered by URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies Specialist Thupten Tendhar. Tendhar praised the Class of 2023 and implored them to celebrate their academic accomplishments — to treat themselves with compassion, rather than wallow in any critique.

“Despite the threat and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and other obstacles, you remained mindful, courageous, and diligent to reach this admirable finish line.”